The Atlanta Falcons and the NFL's Most Inconsistent Teams
The season is only five weeks old, and if you can separate the truly talented from the inherently flawed, than a flight to Vegas is well worth your dollar.
Unexpected contenders like the Lions, Bills and 49ers threaten to displace stalwarts from the past and while all these teams still claim top talent, all have easily identifiable weaknesses that challenge a 2011 trip to the Super Bowl.
Of all teams worth discussing for the playoff chase, these are the most inconsistent.
The Atlanta Falcons
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Allowing 19 unanswered second half points at home will do that to you, and without a consistent pass rush the Falcons will be susceptible to such passing attacks for the remainder of the season.
Though the draft-day trade for WR Julio Jones was supposed to open up the offense, the Falcons have scored less than 15 points in three of five games to become the most unreliable contender of the 2011 season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers
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Many pundits wrote off the Steelers after their 35-7 collapse in Baltimore during the first week, but the team immediately rebounded against lesser opponents despite arguably the worst offensive line in the league.
Despite a rock-solid defense and many offensive weapons, the Steelers are a great bet to break down at any time since Big Ben’s next debilitating injury is always right around the corner.
Porous protection has already taken its toll on long-suffering running backs like returning starter Rashard Mendenhall, who averaged three yards per carry until being sidelined in Week 4.
There is always good reason to fear the Steelers and their top defense, but don’t expect another Super Bowl run from the Black and Gold.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Last year’s surprise NFC team is off to a 3-2 start with two games against rival New Orleans in the next month to likely decide the division.
So why question the team already?
The wheels came off last week in San Francisco, as the Bucs lost starting running back LeGarrette Blount to injury during a 48-3 lesson in which they failed to compete in any aspect of the game.
It’s impossible to accurately assign blame after such a blowout, but the loss certainly casts the spotlight on QB Josh Freeman’s three TDs, six INTs and 74.1 rating to date. Coach Raheem Morris is a respected motivator and won’t let the Bucs quit, but one doesn’t soon forget the image of Alex Smith walking off the field as a 48-3 victor.
The Tennessee Titans
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When your strengths become your weaknesses, you know it’s just not your season.
They are last in rushing yards per game with Chris Johnson averaging a paltry 3.0 per carry, and to make matters worse, top WR Kenny Brit went down for the year in Week 4.
The defense has been traditionally stellar, but invites doubt after allowing 38 points to an unprotected Roethlisberger, making the Titans a highly combustible 2011 playoff contender.
The Dallas Cowboys
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The Cowboys have allowed the fewest rushing yards per game, are third in passing offense (despite the loss of Miles Austin) and sit at 2-2 after a brutal early schedule that includes three current division leaders.
Dallas has much to be proud of on paper, but anyone watching the games can tell you that Tony Romo is anything but money in the clutch. The Cowboys blew a 24-10 fourth quarter lead against the Jets in Week 1, and a 27-3 lead at home against Detroit in Week 4, in large part due to Romo’s penchant for turning the ball over at inopportune times.
No true faith can be put in a team that can’t protect a lead, and until Romo displays leadership, we won’t have to worry about the Cowboys as a Super Bowl team.
The New England Patriots
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What do you really know about the Patriots?
OK, Tom Brady is going to throw darts all over the field, probably to Wes Welker in the slot, the defense is going to give most of those yards right back, and hopefully in the end, the Patriots will have more points.
What part of this process fills you with confidence?
Bill Belichick may be better at his craft than Picasso to his, but no offense can negate the risk of a pass defense that has allowed the most total yards per game and hasn’t consistently stopped the run in a half decade.
Jerod Mayo, the Patriots' stud inside linebacker, is sidelined indefinitely, and without a consistent pass rush the team is scheduled for a shootout each weekend.
The Patriots might be the most talented team in the league, but of any super contender, they have the most to worry about.
The Philadelphia Eagles
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Coach Reid may be the top collector of talent in the NFL, but he’s blown four straight games with a roster many dubbed a “Dream Team” before the season, leading to speculation on his job security and associated ability to manage the clock in crunch time.
Michael Vick is perhaps the greatest threat on a football field, but his notoriously dangerous style of play threatens to end the Eagles season at any moment (unless you believe in Vince Young).
You may enjoy the Eagles' long odds to win the Super Bowl, and it’s certainly still in play, but the Eagles will need to develop a consistency which has dropped them to their current fourth place in the standings.